Widely distributed over the northern two-thirds of South America, where its main range is centered on Amazonia, but there are also much smaller populations in the lowlands of the Atlantic Forest and in northern Colombia, elsewhere the Yellow-backed Tanager also reaches eastern Panama. The sexes differ markedly, but the species is usually observed in pairs, making identification of the more drably plumaged female more straightforward than it might otherwise be. Males are principally black above including the crown, with a yellow lower back and rump patch, and a yellow throat, whilst the rest of the underparts are basically off-white. The bill is predominantly pale. Females are mainly olive-green above and yellow below. The Yellow-backed Tanager is usually found in the canopy of reasonably tall forest and is frequently observed within mixed-species flocks.